Monday, November 3, 2014

Why I'll be voting against 4-year Oneida Common Council terms

I was listening to First Ward Councilor Brahim Zogby on the radio a couple of days ago giving the reasons the Oneida Common Council is asking the voters if they should double the length of councilors’ terms, giving them 4-year terms instead of the current 2-year terms.
The thrust of his argument was that it takes a long time to learn enough about the workings of the city to be an effective councilor, especially since it’s a $5,720-per-year, part-time job. All the necessary studying and meetings must be done at the conclusion of their day jobs.
Two years is simply to short, Zogby said.
True enough, but there are lots of other factors to consider.
First, you’re only a freshman councilor once. At the end of the second term you would have the four years’ experience.
And for the most part, incumbents get re-elected; when they don’t, there’s probably a good reason.
If you were running a business, would you hire workers for four years so they would have ample time to learn everything about the job? Of course not.
We have a good group of hard-working, intelligent community-minded individuals serving on the council now. However, over the years some councilors have lacked some of these traits.
Some were lazy, picking up their information packets just before the meeting and quickly skimming them.
Some were over-extended; with lots going on in their professional and family lives, they didn’t have time to effectively serve.
Some simply didn’t have the skills necessary to make an effective contribution to city affairs.
I’m not naming names, that’s not what this is about. I’m just saying having an election every two years tends to weed out these sorts of people.
It also gives the councilors a reason to get out, knock on doors in their ward, and hear what a variety of people are thinking.
Without this, they tend to get most of their feedback from their family and friends.
While it might seem like an onerous chore to run every two years, that provision was put into the charter for a good reason -- to put the ultimate power in the hands of the voters, where it belongs.
City Prop. 2 (county Prop. 5) is a bad idea.
If getting up to speed on city government is a problem, perhaps it would be a good idea after each election, for each department head to hold a seminar on the workings of his or her department. Members of the public could attend and learn, too.
Public officials often complain too few people turn out for their meetings. Making it so the councilors have less reason to get out into the community will only add to this disconnect.
As for the mayor, while the same logic could hold, I might vote to increase that term to four years.
Unlike the councilors, he (or she) is the titular head of city government. It’s a bigger job, which is recognized by the job’s $27,000 per year salary. It takes more than two years to put together an administration and the programs and policies you promised the voters, especially since in year one, you’re working with a budget crafted by the last mayor and council.
Abrupt, frequent changes in leaders make it hard to get things done.
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